Don’t forget the language!

That was my mistake which only made the process of an adaptation so much longer – I thought I could do without the knowledge of a local language. Actually there were three mistakes. First, I did not immediately recognize the need to learn the language; second, I was putting blame on others instead of myself; and third, I thought it will just stick by itself in the end.

Fluent in English in addition to my mother tongues – Russian and Latvian, with a decent French, some notions of German and Spanish I have moved to Belgium to do an MBA. In English. After that I started my PhD and working for the business school – likewise in English. I talk to my husband in English and – hey! – majority of Flemish at least understand English, but a lot even speak this language fluently. Why bother? And that was what I did for the first 4 years of my life in Belgium: I did not really bother. I was just getting frustrated at my Flemish colleagues in the business school talking Flemish in between themselves; I was just annoyed at the family parties when the family of my husband was talking Flemish. On top of that I always believed I was good at learning foreign languages and thought that Flemish will just stick somehow by itself without me putting any special effort into it. Besides, I was not sure that we will stay in Belgium.

What I do know now the later does not matter. Even if you are in the country for a short period of time – learn the language! Even if everybody understands English – learn the language! Especially if you are already undergoing a change in respect of your professional career and in general – your identity – learn the language! You will never be fully accepted in the society and will not feel good yourself if you are not able to communicate.

I totally lost 4 years and was still not sufficiently active in the following two. My knowledge of Flemish at this particular point in time is in terms of European classification something around 2B, which is a conversational with a good understanding. However, I am now finally putting a lot of effort in learning this language. A great tool I found recently is a DUOLINGO app for the iPhone. They also have a website, but I find it very convenient to use an app. Totally free, pleasantly diverse and overall I would even say an addicting way of learning with an offer of Dutch, Spanish, Italian and a bunch of other languages.

To note that also with respect to learning Flemish I apply the principle of the set time limit. It is a difficult, close to impossible, task when you have kids running around to find an hour to learn a language, but finding 4 time slots of 15 minutes at some point in a day is so much easier. Same total time, yet better output due to a more concentrated effort.


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